Tackling Corruption in Guyana

Tackling Corruption in Guyana
Photo : Dr. Vishnu Bisram

The highly respected Transparency International, a global anti-corruption body, ranked Guyana 91 out of 180 countries in its latest corruption index (2017); 2018 rating is expected soon. Countries are rated on a scale from zero to 100 where zero means least corrupt and 100 most corrupt. Guyana scores a poor 38 on the index. Corruption is rampant in Guyana – it is institutionalized from top echelon of society all te way to the bottom.

According to Transparency, the least corrupt nations are New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, Singapore, Sweden, Canada, and Luxembourg, etc. (Western European nations or first world countries are least corrupt. The most corrupt are Benin, Kosovo. African, Latin and Asian countries or the third world nation are most corrupt. Guyana has made little progress in reducing corruption. Guyana scores 38 on the corruption index. While the rating has gone up in recent years, if one asks Guyanese whether corruption has worsened or lessened over the last three years, a large majority would tell you things have gotten worse. People pay more bribes to get service or to obtain licenses or make a problem disappear. I witnessed several cases where police made a traffic summons disappear for between 10,000 and 20K. And I was told of several cases where judges or magistrates took bribes. Politicians also direct judges or bureaucrats how to break the law (become corrupt).

How can we understand corruption in Guyana? Why is our country so corrupt? What can be done to eliminate corruption?

It is indisputable that corruption is way of life in the Guyanese society – it is a national ethos or character of the nation. Cultural ethos and historical precedence were/are contributing factors to institutionalized corruption. But it has worsened since independence; the PNC dictatorship made it a way of life. The colonial white man was not so blind to corruption the way our rulers have been since independence in 1966. Rulers after independence, with the sole exception of the Jagans (1992 to 1999), have demanded massive kickbacks. It has reached scandalous proportions over the last three years.

People don’t see government as effective and consider politicians and law enforcers as lawbreakers. Thus, they tend towards breaking the law as well in order to achieve their objectives. There is an erosion of morality at all levels of the society. People say that if government figures can break the law, why not them also. Thus, there is widespread apathy towards government figures and law enforcers (from policeman to judges to clerks).

It is well known that a bribe is paid for almost any form of service or to evade a fine or taxes or obtain license or to obtain a contract or to conduct business. Corruption has been institutionalized by the behavior of the officers in government and the bureaucracy and by the act of the citizens themselves. People are driven to pay a bribe to get things done; they get better service when they greased someone’s palm and it is destroying the social fabric of the nation. They are conditioned to pay the bribe. The wealthy and the poor both pay bribes for service or make a problem disappear. But the wealthy can offer bigger bribes and so has an advantage over the poor in getting service or solving a problem. People disrespect law and order because of the corrupt behavior of those who govern us. The top-down power structures of governance is one cause of corruption. And if we are to eliminate it, we must decentralize the power structure – empower the people at the local level. Shift power away from the central government so that people don’t depend on bureaucrats or politicians in the capital for almost everything from a birth certificate to a passport to a contract to fix a road.

What people don’t understand is that corruption has a domino effect on society – if you break or enforce the law, others would follow suit. Right now, our politicians (rulers in particular) don’t follow the rules of law. They take a bribe for any act of service. So the bureaucrats emulate the behavior of those higher ups in the chain. Fear causes people to uphold the law. But if one can bribe a judge or police or politician ad get away with lawlessness, then society breaks down. This leads to a greater tendency towards corruption. If one needs a pot hole fixed and one has to go to the politician in central government for funding or approval, it opens avenues for kickbacks. But if the local people are empowered, the risks for corruption are reduced significantly because the people at the local level would hold their community politician accountable. It will be more difficult to bribe judges and law enforcement because the people can kick them out if they don’t enforce the law or if they become corrupt.

If we in Guyana really want to cut down on corruption, we will have to start holding politicians accountable. Remove those in office who refuse to decentralize power to the people. Don’t vote for them. And make an example of those law officers who are corrupt – prosecute and jail them. Attachments area